Every teacher has been there. The mountain of projects in front of me had been chipped down to the last hour. I stared at the five or six book report posters left, smiling to myself, knowing the light was indeed at the end of the tunnel. Giddiness overwhelmed me as I buckled down to read the summary of an eccentric girl that had a clever wit and an undying love for Harry Potter books. In fact, that is exactly what she was summarizing. I was expecting her unique personality to shine through. Instead the summary read like an adult movie trailer. Almost like she had copied and pasted the entire thing right off the internet. They style was all too perfect. The word choice was impeccable, precise. I was not surprised to find her entire summary, word for word, on a book review web site. Busted!
I went right to work printing that page off the internet and taping it to the side of her poster. On the bottom of the printout I laid on a guilt trip thicker than a Herford House steak, an entire paragraph lecturing her about how I expected more of her. I sent her mom an e-mail with the online summary attachment informing her of the plagiarism. Then, that next day, I called that girl up to my desk after class to discuss the book report. Students were shuffling by her when I asked how long she had spent on the project, especially the summary. She smiled telling me she worked hard on it the night before, and I will have to admit, on a scale of one to ten in believability, she was a solid eleven! That is until I pointed to the printout, the haymaker punch that blew up her story into nothing.
The look on her face was priceless. You could see her mind spinning, looking for another way out, but there was none. She was mincemeat. Cooked. Doneski. A blank expression shifted to a look that told quite a remorseful story. Her head dropped even more as I informed her that I had already e-mailed mom and was going to call her after school. I was holding quite the authority here, and I was loving every minute of it. There is nothing better than playing Sherlock Holmes and busting someone who tries to take the easy way out. I mean, how can you argue with every Language Arts teacher’s best friend, Google? This was justice at its best! Retribution! A story to tell the grandkids someday! Not to mention to tell future students to scare the dickens out of them in even attempting an atrocity like this in the first place.
My call to mom hit voicemail of course. Heck, if I were mom and I saw my school district’s name on the caller ID, I might just let it roll to voicemail too! I left a brief message informing mom of the e-mail I had sent as well as the consequences for cheating: a big fat zero. Hanging up the phone, the case was closed. End-o-discussion. I packed my things up to leave work and head home, my feeling shifting from satisfied to slightly sickened. It was odd, but I knew why. I felt the pain of that young gal going home to mom, bracing herself to get her phone taken away. Haven’t we all been there before? When you know you’ve done wrong and you’re just waiting for the punishment to slam down on you like a sledgehammer? It was weird, but I felt that poor girl’s anguish. Why?
It took a few days, but that same girl approached me after class with a folded piece of paper in her hands. Tears were welling in the corner of her eyes. A tightlipped, remorseful smile plastered on her face, she handed me the note. After unfolding it five or six times, an entire page apology note written in her own words, her own style, stared back at me. The last line of her note echoed in my mind. It asked for a second chance to rewrite the summary. A mulligan. Empathy swelled in my heart. My eyes reddened a bit as I looked back up at her, her heart pleading for forgiveness. We’ve all heard the lesson of the prodigal son. If you haven’t, check it out in Luke 15: 11-32. I felt like that father! God’s whisper in my ear was all too clear. I had no choice but to forgive.
What does God teach us about forgiving? We must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18: 22). We must forgive others as Christ has forgiven us, showing kindness and compassion (Ephesians 4: 32). And if we don’t show forgiveness, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6: 15). Call me crazy, but I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that nobody reading this is perfect. We all sin. Don’t you have that same sickened feeling when you mess up? The same feeling that craves a welcoming hug, a pat on the back, or even simply a nod of approval? When that gal pleaded forgiveness from me, seeing that expression of sheer guilt and humility blanketing her entire essence, I reassured her that she was indeed forgiven.
Fast forward to the following morning. That student of mine that tried to take the easy way out skipped into my room fully aware that we were clean. I smiled at her as she proudly handed me the real summary of Harry Potter. Upon reading it I smiled, seeing her keen sense of humor, and a few typical 7th grade grammar errors sprinkled throughout. It was without a doubt most certainly hers, and I thanked her for her righting a wrong. You see the thing is that sometimes the most powerful lesson one can learn is from a mistake. I had an old high school teacher that preached that to me way back in 1994 on the last day of school. I’ll never forget Mr. Basket wishing everyone a successful failure in life. Think about it.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult Christian principles to act out; however, is that is an excuse to compromise in favor of shaming someone? Holding a grudge? Hardening yourself to the point of cutting off a relationship completely? Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross so that we might be forgiven, modeling the epitome of forgiveness. He died for His followers and His adversaries. The next time you run across a situation where a student comes to you in humility, will you choose to hold a grudge or will you choose mercy? God’s commands are so much more than our humanness. Choose the higher calling. Choose forgiveness.